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Six Nashville, Tennessee, police officers are being hailed as “heroes” for running toward what would quickly become the scene of an explosion on Christmas morning, urging residents and business owners to evacuate a section of the city’s downtown ahead of the blast.
Authorities now say an RV containing a bomb exploded just outside of an AT&T communications facility Friday morning, leaving extensive damage but causing just three injuries. On Saturday, law enforcement officials reported that they had found human remains on site, believed to be the bomber.
The blast followed a bizarre series of incidents. Police officers and firefighters were called to the scene around 6 am Friday after an individual reported shots fired at the corner of Second Avenue and Commerce Street in downtown Nashville. They then “noticed a suspicious RV parked outside an AT&T building,” the Tennessean reported.
The RV, as seen in footage obtained from nearby surveillance cameras, was broadcasting a message: “Evacuate now. There is a bomb. A bomb is in this vehicle and will explode.” It also broadcast a countdown, giving nearby residents and business owners around 15 minutes to flee the area.
The six police officers on the scene, officers Brenna Hosey, James Luellen, Michael Sipos, Amanda Topping, and James Wells, and Sergeant Timothy Miller, sprang into action, running toward the RV and going from home to home warning and evacuating residents. At least one member of the team alerted the city’s bomb squad of what appeared to be an impending explosion.
Nashville’s mayor, John Cooper, hailed the six as heroes at a press conference.
“They ran to danger with uncertain outcomes ahead of them; they were responsible for so many innocents being saved,” he said.
Metro police Chief John Drake also honored the six officers for their bravery.
“Those officers saved lives today,” Drake said. “They immediately began knocking on doors, not knowing if the bomb was going to go off immediately. They didn’t care about themselves, they didn’t think about that, they cared about the citizens of Nashville.”
Luellen was the first officer on the scene and told local media that he immediately became suspicious when he responded to the “shots fired” call but found no one at the corner of Second and Commerce.
“Initially, I didn’t hear any shots fired,” Luellen said Sunday. “We were told shots were coming from inside the building at 178 Second Avenue North.”
“I checked the bottom floor,” he continued. “[I] couldn’t see anything, couldn’t hear anything.” While waiting on a code to get in the building, officer Breanna Hosey arrived on scene, and ‘almost immediately’ the RV starting making an announcement: there is a large bomb in this vehicle.”
“I wasn’t quite sure what I heard,” Luellen added, “so I looked at officer Hosey and verified we heard the same thing, and then it started over. At that time, I called and notified Sgt. [Timothy] Miller. He said get everyone you can out there.”
The officers quickly hatched a plan, blocking streets and evacuating buildings, using the RV’s broadcast countdown to judge where they needed to go and how much time they had left. They moved from the RV outward, they said.
The RV eventually stopped counting and played a song, “Downtown” by Petula Clark. It picked up its countdown after the song ended, at which point Luellen noticed a man they had not evacuated emerging from a nearby residence with his dog.
“After it switched back, I noticed there was a gentleman and his dog that came out of 217 Second Avenue North,” Luellen said. “I noticed him, I went up to him to notify ‘hey, you need to get inside and notify anyone you can and please evacuate.’ Shortly after that, the explosion went off.”
Luellen and the man were knocked to the ground and stunned. After the blast went off, Luellen checked on Miller and then ran toward the blast site, where he found four people still reeling from the blast but uninjured. He took the four to safety.
So far, Luellen is the only one to tell his story to the media, but the other five officers are likely to have similar harrowing tales of their own.
On Saturday, officials said they were investigating a “person of interest” in the bombing, and the FBI raised a residence in suburban Nashville believed to be connected to the RV that appeared on security footage. Although authorities have not announced a motive or a suspect in the bombing, The Daily Wire reported Saturday that officials are pursuing a number of leads, including a suspicion that paranoia bout 5G cellular networks might have been behind the explosion.